Archive for Environment

Carbon tax initiative receives enough signatures to reach Legislature

By | January 22, 2016 | 0 Comments

An initiative that would put a tax on carbon emissions from fossil fuels in Washington has received enough certified signatures to reach the Legislature.

Initiative 732, backed by a group called Carbon WA, would implement $25 per metric ton tax on carbon emissions from fossil fuels, gasoline and natural gas. Supporters claim it would be revenue neutral because it also reduces the state sales tax by 1 percent and cuts the business and occupation tax for manufacturers. The initiative would fund the Working Families Rebate for low-income families.

That initiative was certified on Tuesday, despite having the highest signature error rate in “at least 25 years,” according to David Ammons, the communications director at the Office of Secretary of State. A random 3 percent check of the 363,126 signatures submitted revealed a nearly 28 percent error rate, Ammons said.

To reach the Legislature, an initiative needs at least 246,372 signatures. Legislators may either pass the initiative as-is or put it on the statewide ballot to be voted on this fall. They may also decide to send it to ballot with their own legislative alternative.

I-732 drew attention in December when a state analysis done by legislative staff shows the “revenue neutral” proposal would cost the state $675 million over four years. Carbon WA said they expect the initiative to be revenue-neutral or possibly revenue-positive — either way, they said it won’t cost the state money. The group issued a response to the analysis, which they said corrects problems in the report that made the results appear revenue-negative.

New TVW documentary on Yakima Basin Integrated Plan premieres Thursday

By | December 29, 2015 | 0 Comments

TVW is premiering a new one-hour documentary on Thursday evening titled “Watershed Agreement: The Truce Ending Washington’s Water War.”

The piece explores the history of the $4 billion Yakima Basin Integrated Plan, designed to ensure that farms and fish in Central Washington will survive droughts. After decades of contentious battles and lawsuits over water rights, a diverse group of farmers, irrigators, Native Americans, conservationists and government officials set aside their self-interests to cooperate and develop one of the biggest water projects.

The documentary looks at the history of the water wars in Washington, what convinced the sides to finally come together, the projects each group will get in return, and why some believe the plan spends too much taxpayer money for too little payoff in the face of a changing climate.

Watch the documentary below:

Categories: Environment, TVW

Carbon tax initiative has enough signatures to head to Legislature

By | December 2, 2015 | 0 Comments

An initiative that would impose a new tax on carbon emissions while also cutting the state’s sales tax appears to be headed to the Legislature in January.

Initiative 732 adds a $25-per-ton tax on fossil fuels. To offset the higher gas prices that consumers will pay, the initiative proposes cutting the state’s sales tax by 1 cent per dollar. It would also lower the business and occupation tax on manufacturing and fund tax rebates for certain low-income workers.

Supporters of the proposal say it will reduce air pollution without changing the overall amount of taxes paid by individuals. Carbon Washington, the campaign behind the initiative, announced Wednesday it has collected 330,000 signatures, surpassing the 246,000 signatures needed to send an initiative to the Legislature.

The group intends to continue collecting signatures until Dec. 30, when it will deliver the initiative to the Secretary of State’s office, according to the group’s founder, Yoram Bauman. The additional signatures allow for room for error.

If the signatures are validated, the initiative first goes to the state Legislature. It can adopt the initiative as proposed, or send the measure to the ballot for the November 2016 general election. It can also approve an alternative to the initiative, which would place both the original and the alternative on the ballot.

Categories: Election, Energy, Environment

Ecology outlines new clean air, water rules raising questions from chair about authority

By | November 19, 2015 | 0 Comments

The Department of Ecology outlined plans for new air and water pollution rules on Thursday at a Senate committee, drawing questions from the Republican chairman about whether the agency has the authority to act.

Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee directed the department in July to develop a cap for carbon emissions under the state’s Clean Air Act after his own proposed cap-and-trade plan did not advance in the Legislature during the 2015 session.

Ecology is also moving forward with a new fish consumption rule that determines the amount of pollutants allowed in the state’s waterways. Inslee directed Ecology to rewrite those rules in October to match federal recommendations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, questioned why the rulemaking was being done through the executive branch instead of the legislative branch. “At what point is there no point in having a Legislature?” he asked.

Ecology director Maia Bellon acknowledged there is “jostling” between the legislative and executive branches, but said she believes the department is acting under existing environmental laws.

“I feel comfortable that we have that authority,” Bellon said.

Ecology representatives updated the Senate Energy, Environment & Telecommunications Committee on the agency’s proposed rules.

The proposed clean air rule sets a cap on carbon pollution that would affect 31 companies in Washington that emit more than 100,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year, such as industrial plants, power plants and landfills. The program is expected to begin in 2017, with the first emission reduction deadline in 2020.

The clean water rule is tied to a fish consumption rate that assumes residents can safely eat fish that is caught in the state’s rivers, lakes and streams. The proposal would increase the state’s fish consumption rate from 6.5 grams of fish per day to 175 grams, or about one fish fillet a day. It assumes a cancer risk rate of one in a million, which is more protective than previous proposals.

Read Ecology’s documents here.

TVW taped the committee hearing. It will be posted at this link.

Categories: Environment

Inslee directs Ecology to rewrite clean water rules

By | October 9, 2015 | 0 Comments

Gov. Jay Inslee is directing state Ecology officials to rewrite a proposed clean water rule that determines the level of pollutants allowed in the state’s waterways.

The new rule is designed to align with federal recommendations in an effort to maintain state control over the process. If the state doesn’t act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will issue its own rule.

“That has left us with a choice,” Inslee said Thursday at a press conference in Seattle. He said the state can either adopt a federal rule that is “extremely stringent and very inflexible,” or write its own rule that is “reasonable and works with our growing economy.”

“This is our state and it should be our clean water rule,” Inslee said.

The clean water rule is tied to a fish consumption rate that assumes residents can safely eat fish that is caught in the state’s rivers, lakes and streams. The state’s current rate is 6.5 grams of fish per day, or about one bite of fish per day.

The EPA recommended in September that Washington significantly increase the fish consumption rate to 175 grams a day, or about one small fish filet per day.

“This rate accounts for local data, reflects input from tribes in Washington and protects fish consumers downstream in Oregon,” which also uses 175 grams a day to determine safe levels of pollution, the EPA wrote in its September proposal.

Inslee’s proposal matches the federal recommendation of 175 grams a day. That comes with a theoretical cancer risk rate of one in a million chance of developing cancer if a person ate 175 grams of fish every day for 70 years.

Ecology officials say they plan to write a rule that will provide more flexibility to industries, municipalities and manufacturers than the federal version. Ecology director Maia Bellon said it would consider things like “intake credits,” which would adjust a company’s obligation if the water that the company draws is already contaminated.

EPA will halt its rulemaking process if Washington submits its own rule, Inslee said.

“During this process, I heard over and over that people in businesses and governments wanted to maintain control over this process,” Inslee said. “Not to turn our future over to the federal government.”

Categories: Environment, Fish

Ecology begins rule-making process to cap carbon emissions

By | September 21, 2015 | 0 Comments

The state’s Ecology department is moving forward with a rule-making process that would require more than 30 manufacturers, power plants and landfills in Washington to significantly reduce greenhouse emissions.

Gov. Jay Inslee directed the department in July to develop a cap for carbon emissions under the state’s Clean Air Act after his own proposed cap-and-trade plan failed to advance in the Legislature during the 2015 session.

Ecology director Maia Bellon said in a press briefing Monday the department’s rule is “fundamentally different” than the governor’s plan. She noted that Inslee’s plan targeted a larger number of polluters — about 130 facilities — that emitted more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year. Ecology is focusing on a smaller number of facilities, about 35, that are owned by 30 companies and emit at least 100,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year.

Several landfills meet Ecology’s threshold, including ones in Yakima, Maple Valley, Graham and Castle Rock. Four power plants operated by Puget Sound Energy would be required to reduce emissions, as would natural gas distributors Avista and Cascade Natural Gas. It also targets refineries and petroleum fuel facilities such as the BP Cherry Point Refinery, Tesoro in Anacortes and Phillips 66 in Ferndale. Read the full list of companies here.

Ecology air quality program manager Stu Clark said companies will have a “wide variety of options” to reduce pollution, such as installing new equipmenht, obtaining credits for emissions, sharing emissions credit or paying for projects elsewhere in the state that reduce greenhouse gases.

If companies don’t comply, Ecology has enforcement powers under the state’s Clean Air Act to issue notices and penalties, Clark said.

Health officials on Monday said the latest drought and wildfires underscore the need to reduce carbon. State Secretary of Health John Wiesman said smoke from wildfires resulted in hundreds of hospitalizations, and warmer temperatures are decimating the state’s shellfish industry.

Ecology plans to introduce a draft rule in December and begin gathering public input early next year, with the goal of having a rule implemented by 2016.

The rule aims to meet a 2008 law passed by the Legislature that set a goal of reducing greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and half that by 2050.

Categories: Environment

‘Legislative Year in Review’ recaps the extended 2015 session

By | July 15, 2015 | 0 Comments

The state Legislature adjourned on July 10 after a record-setting 176 days. In this hour-long edition of “Legislative Year in Review,” we recap the highlights of the significant bills that passed — and failed to pass — during the regular and overtime sessions.

Lawmakers narrowly avoided a state government shutdown by passing a two-year operating budget that was signed into law just before midnight on June 30 by Gov. Jay Inslee. But the session didn’t end there. Senate leaders were drawn into an additional week of negotiations after a debate in the chamber over Initiative 1351, a class size reduction initiative passed by voters that came with a $2 billion price tag.

Senate Democrats and Republicans eventually reached a deal to delay implementation of the class size initiative for four years, while also suspending a new high school biology graduation requirement for two years. That agreement allows nearly 2,000 high school seniors who failed the exam this year to earn a diploma.

As part of the overall budget, college students will get a tuition cut and additional money will be funneled into early education and preschool with the Early Start Act.

Lawmakers also passed a $16 billion transportation package funded by a 11.9-cent gas tax increase that pays for projects across the state — marking the first time in a decade the state has made a significant investment in transportation infrastructure.

Also on the show: We recap debate over several bills that passed this year, including an oil train safety measure, an involuntary commitment bill known as Joel’s law, medical marijuana reform, the establishment of a new Washington State University medical school and a gun notification bill known as the Sheena Henderson Act.

Plus, details about the bills that generated heated debate but failed to pass — including the creation of a new type of payday loan, a proposed $12-an-hour statewide minimum wage, restrictions on initiative signature-gathering and eliminating personal exemptions for vaccines.

“Legislative Year in Review” airs at 6 and 11 p.m. every night on TVW through July 19. Or watch the show online below:

Special session update: Budget briefings, cap-and-trade proposal forthcoming

By | May 7, 2015 | 0 Comments

Budget writers met this week for two days of budget “briefings,” but have yet to resolve more than 1,000 differences between the budgets passed by the Democrat-controlled House and the Republican majority Senate, according to Democratic legislative leaders.

“Going through each section of the budget, going through where the differences are, where the decisions have to be made — that’s what is happening right now,” House Democratic Majority Leader Pat Sullivan told reporters on Thursday.

The Legislature began a 30-day special session on April 29 after adjourning regular session without a two-year operating budget in place.

House Speaker Frank Chopp said there remains “major differences” between the two budgets, highlighting a difference of $450 million more in the Democratic budget for K-12 basic education than the Republican approach.

Senate Republican Majority Leader Mark Schoesler said Democrats don’t have the money for the $450 million expenditure. “They can spend it, but they can’t pay for it,” he said at a Republican media availability.

Legislators on both sides of the aisle are pushing to get an early revenue forecast update to see if the state will collect more revenue.

Waiting for June 17, when the revenue forecast is scheduled to be released, is “just too late,” said Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island. (more…)

Lawmakers consider extending electric vehicle tax break for cars $35,000 or less

By | April 20, 2015 | 0 Comments

Lawmakers considered a bill Monday that would extend the state’s sales tax break on electric vehicles — but only for cars that cost up to $35,000. Several people testified in support the tax break, but had concerns about proposed price cap.

A 2015 Nissan LEAF gets charged. (Photo by Nissan.)

A 2015 Nissan LEAF gets charged. (Photo by Nissan.)

Under House Bill 2087, car buyers would not have pay thousands of dollars in sales tax on an electric vehicle that can travel at least 30 miles on battery alone and is under the proposed $35,000 price cap.

That would apply to cars such as the Nissan Leaf, the Chevrolet Spark and the electric Ford Focus.

J.J. McCoy of the Seattle Electric Vehicle Association says the current tax incentives are a big reason why many recent purchasers have gone electric.

“A recent study shows about 63 percent of the market share in Washington state is due to the sales tax exemption,” he said. Half the market could disappear if the sales tax exemption were left to expire, he said.

Although he supports the bill, he has concerns about the $35,000 price cap excluding more expensive electric cars, one of which has a major part made in the state.

“The BMW i3 which uses the carbon fiber made here in Moses Lake would not apply,” he said.

Mike Ennis of the Association of Washington Business also echoed those concerns about the price cap.

“We believe that you would be hurting the manufacturers who are leading in EV innovations. Manufacturers like GM, Tesla and BMW provide models that would fall on the other side of the cap,” he said.

Speaking on behalf of the bill, Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, says the bill writers intentionally targeted the lower-priced cars.

“The tax break doesn’t determine whether they will buy a Tesla or not. But it does make a difference for someone who would buy an ordinary sedan to get them from a gas-powered to an electric vehicle. We think this is the magic price point,” he said, adding that the bill writers would be willing to consider a price a few thousand higher.

The bill also sets annual registration fees for electric vehicles at $150 dollars a year, some of which would help build more charging stations throughout the state.

Orcutt says that will help build the industry.

“Until there are more electric vehicles out there you’re not going to have enough charging stations. Until you get more charging stations out there, people are going to be reluctant to buy the EVs,” he said.

Orcutt said it also would not be a bad thing if the dealerships felt compelled to drop prices on certain models in order to qualify for the tax break.

“We’re trying to make these more affordable to the general public, to the middle class. If it creates a downward price pressure, to me that’s a good thing,” he said.

The committee took no action on Monday. The current sales tax break on electric vehicles is set to end in July.

Categories: Energy, Environment

Agencies seek flexibility for drought response

By | March 25, 2015 | 0 Comments
Areas of Washington affected by a 2015 drought emergency declaration. (Department of Ecology)

Areas of Washington affected by a 2015 drought emergency declaration. (Department of Ecology)

Local and state agencies told a Senate committee on Tuesday that they want flexibility in responding to — and anticipating — drought conditions, which will affect several regions in Washington this year.

Earlier this month, Gov. Jay Inslee declared a drought emergency for the Olympic Peninsula, east side of the central Cascade Mountains including Yakima and Wenatchee, and Walla Walla region after a mild winter that caused low snowpack. The melting snow helps fill the state’s water sources such as ground water and rivers in the spring and summer.

According to the governor’s office, snowpack is 7 percent of normal in the Olympic Mountains, 67 percent of normal in the Walla Walla region and ranges from 8 to 45 percent of normal across the Cascades.

While most other areas of the state won’t be hit as hard by drought conditions, the lack of water could affect the agriculture-dependent regions of Yakima, Wenatchee and Walla Walla.

The Department of Ecology also requested $9 million in drought relief, which would pay for agricultural and fisheries projects, emergency water-right permits, changes to existing water rights, and grant water-right transfers.

The Senate Committee on Agriculture and Water and Rural Economic Development heard an update on Tuesday from the Department of Ecology and others on the upcoming water shortage.

Sequim City Attorney Craig Ritchie said the the city would like to expand the uses of reclaimed water — which is treated sewage water — but is barred by regulations. Ritchie says possibilities for using the reclaimed water include irrigation and using it for toilet water in new construction.

“The laws and rules on what we can do with our reclaimed water are partly based on the fact that before it was purified as well as it is, it was called effluent, and most people really don’t want the effluent anywhere,” Ritchie said.

Ritchie said a drought may be a good time to revisit water regulations.

The committee also heard testimony on HB 1836, which would expand the ability of the Department of Ecology and the Legislative Drought Committee to react to expected drought conditions, before the governor formally declares it.

Jennifer Holderman of the Department of Ecology said that the bill would give the department more capacity to plan ahead, including the ability to negotiate and secure access to water supplies before drought conditions, when those prices are highest.

Evan Sheffels of the Washington Farm Bureau agreed. “It would add some flexibility in the drought preparations that the department gets engaged in,” he said.

You can watch the update in the TVW archives.